The U.S. Supreme Court will consider throwing out the convictions of former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling for his role in the collapse of the one-time energy giant.
The court said Tuesday it will hear Skilling's appeal of lower court rulings that upheld all 19 of his 2006 convictions of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors involving the 2001 collapse of Enron.
Skilling, serving a 24-year prison term, is asking the court to consider whether the federal "honest services" fraud statute was applied correctly. The justices already have two other cases on their schedule dealing with the honest services law, a favorite tool of federal prosecutors in white-collar crime and public corruption cases.
The law has been criticized as vague and unfair because the government need not prove, in some instances, that a defendant personally benefited from the alleged fraud.
Skilling also claims that he did not receive a fair trial in Houston following Enron's collapse, describing "blistering daily attacks" in the media. "Skilling was pronounced guilty throughout Houston long before trial," his lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, said in his court filing.
A ruling in his favor on the fair trial claim probably would result in a new trial. The effect of the ruling on honest services is unclear since Skilling was convicted on other charges as well, including securities fraud.
"We are so relieved," Petrocelli told The Associated Press Tuesday "We've been waiting almost three years now since Jeff was convicted. You know, the stain of the Enron story has been hard to overcome. And the Supreme Court has decided it's going to give us a full, frank and fair hearing."
Petrocelli said Skilling's legal team spoke with the former Enron leader Tuesday. "He's in tears, as many of us are. We cannot wait to go before the Supreme Court and argue our case," he said.
No date has been set for the argument, but it will be held early in 2010.
In January, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but ordered Skilling's prison term reduced.
Skilling is the highest-ranking executive to be punished for the accounting tricks and shady business deals that led to the loss of thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in Enron stock value and more than $2 billion in employee pension plans after the company imploded in 2001.
Company founder Kenneth Lay also was convicted of conspiracy, fraud and other charges, but his convictions were vacated after he died less than two months later of heart disease.